Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ask not for Whom the Bell Busks...

[The basis for what follows came from a link at Moon of Alabama]

The Washington Post pulled a stunt with the help of a fellow named Joshua Bell. (Yes, that is the heartbreaker in the picture)

The shtick was: what would happen if a world famous master violinist like Mr. Bell stood up in a public place and did a busking* gig for the better part of an hour.

What happened was that he played on his $3,000,000 Stradivarius for 45 minutes and $32.17 were thrown into his violin case. More than a thousand people passed by, but only one man stopped to listen. There was also a little boy would also have stopped to hear the wonder, but his mommy had him by the hand and he had to go to kindergarten instead.

A big deal was made that nobody recognized Mr. Bell and that he was mostly ignored. The event, or happening if you will, was recorded on video and many of the pedestrians were later interviewed.

The conclusion was more or less that people don't know what's good or what they like unless somebody tells them.

However, the "experiment" was flawed for a number of reasons. It took place in a busy metro station and, although the acoustics were not too bad, it was by the doors and the gig started a few minutes before 8 in the morning on a Friday in the middle of January.

Heck, under conditions like that, I don't think Jesus Christ himself would get much attention, unless he was raising the dead or turning water into wine and passing it around...

I've done a bit of busking myself and I can tell you that place and timing were completely wrong. If he had played on the "Walking Street" in Copenhagen, he would have both had a crowd and a lot more cash in the kitty -- assuming he picked the right time day.

The fact is, people do recognize something of quality when they hear it. However, if the entire ambiance of the space is to get from one place to another quickly, like from home to the office, no one stops. If they are not completely concentrated on a goal to get from here to there, people will stop up, if only out of simple curiosity -- especially if there are already some people there.

On the other hand, most of us, myself included, are snobs in the sense that we let our preconceptions and what we have been told color our experience of what we meet in the world.

One must constantly struggle to remain awake in order to see what we are seeing and hear what we are hearing -- and not just what we think we are supposed to be seeing and hearing.

To put it another way, it is a struggle not to mistake the packaging and the hype for the content and the experience.

Or, more brutal: Conscious awareness is not just an innate quality but a skill which must be honed and kept in form through constant use -- otherwise, like any muscle, it atrophies.
* To busk is to set yourself up in some public space and perform music, poetry, whatever, in the hopes attracting attention, preferably in the form of money in the kitty, donated by the public one manages to attract.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the attention attracted is the authorities of public order, that is the police.

Free speech does not apply in most public places.

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